Tim Richards takes a vineyard tour with a difference and discovers riding a Segway is as easy as falling off a log.
'There are the four Cs," a tour leader with Segway Victoria, Terry Smit, says. "Comfortable, Confident, Cocky and Coming off. I'll be trying to keep you to the first two."
My wife, Narrelle, and I are sitting with six others in a side room at Rochford Winery in the Yarra Valley, at 10.30 on a Sunday morning.
Elsewhere in the building, the brunch crowd are arriving and other visitors are checking out the wine on sale at the cellar door.
We eight, however, are learning the fine points of how to ride the off-road version of the Segway, the distinctive "personal transporter" with a high-tech gyroscopic system working to always keep the rider upright.
Moving out to a broad lawn, which plays host to the occasional concert, we find the machines waiting for us. Each is a surprisingly simple device, just a platform with two wheels and a long central shaft with handlebars on top.
Giving us our final instructions, Smit points out that although it has similarities to other vehicles such as bicycles, it works quite differently. This is a lesson I'll soon be learning the hard way.
I don a helmet and mount my steed, then head up a short rise onto the lawn. Once on level ground, it is evident how easy a Segway is to use. If you lean forward, it moves forward; if you lean back, it moves backward. The handles head it left or right; if you stand up straight it simply stops.
It seems easy enough on lawn but then Smit leads us down a roadway to a large cleared area of gravel and coarser grass. We're also taken off training mode so we can potentially reach the Segway's top speed of 20km/h.
Suddenly the machine opens up and I have a rush of freedom as I zip around the open space, becoming ever more confident over the rougher patches of ground.
My comeuppance happens in the next zone we traverse, a beautiful wetlands area of ponds and gum trees, in which the tour's designers have inserted some mild hazards - log bridges, minor obstacles and small hills. It's when heading slowly up one of these hills that I lose my nerve, thinking the machine is going to roll back, then grab the handlebar instinctively to steady myself.
I accidentally turn left as I grab and the next moment I'm flat on my back, with the transport God knows where. I'd forgotten the Segway is a motorised vehicle and could have made it up the hill quite slowly, not a bicycle that might fall over at low speed.
The other problem I have is stepping off neatly. Ideally you need to step off while staying upright. However, I always manage to accidentally tip the device backward so it runs lightly into me after I step off. The machine is loyally trying to stay under my feet at all times but I'd quite like to be able to switch off its mobility before I step down.
I'm not, however, the only rider to come off; pretty well everyone on the tour does so at some point. It seems clear that, given time, a Segway owner would become an instinctive expert in riding the machine. For a beginner, a few bumps must be expected.
And for those with an adventurous spirit, there are a couple of more significant challenges on the Segway tour.
After circling back around the cellar door, catching the eye of diners, the bolder members of our group try riding at speed down a small grassy depression, feeling some momentary air beneath the tyres. Then we're introduced to a steep, rutted track down a hillside. Taking it very slowly, a few intrepid riders try to make it down the slope without coming off. One does indeed make it.
After all this adrenalin, Narrelle and I are happy to head to the cellar door for the included lunch. I've chosen the escallop of local pork loin, she's selected the pan-fried king salmon, and the Rochford sauvignon blanc is going down a treat in the bright sunshine. It's a neat segue from excitement to relaxation.
Tim Richards was a guest of Segway Victoria.
The Segway Tour operates at 10.30am and 2.30pm on weekends and public holidays at Rochford Winery, 878 Maroondah Highway, Coldstream.
Cost: Adult $140, concession $120, includes lunch. Phone 1300 112 147, see segwayvictoria.com.au.